Little Books and Big Ambitions

I recently read an interesting post from Leigh Russell, author of the Geraldine Steel series, in which she reminds readers of the value of having a publisher. Having recently started work on a set of humour ebooks, along the lines of The Little Book of Cynics, I found myself smiling at her post.

She's right, of course, that having a publisher (and an agent, come to that) enables a writer to concentrate on what they do best (and enjoy the most!): writing. I'm an advocate of self-publishing, initially by necessity and now by choice. I submitted my fantasy, Covenant, to more agents and publishers than I could shake a manuscript at. There were one or two nibbles, but in the end none of them came to fruition. 

Books are written to be read, so what's a writer to do? I decided that publishing Covenant myself would provide several benefits:

1. It would give me a final version of the book, after a final, heroic edit. (A lovely idea, but for the 33 typos subsequently discovered and now fixed.)
2. It would put the book out there for public scrutiny, allowing for the prospect of feedback and reader engagement.
3. It would draw a line under the book and enable me, the writer, to breathe out a sigh of satisfaction and then go and start writing something else. (Or, in my case, spend time working on the other three novels.)
4. It would pave the way for book sales and all the good stuff we associate with being a successful writer. To date, I've had a magazine review Covenant and I've made some money.

However, as an indie / self publisher, you not only wear many hats, you're also responsible for not dropping any of them. You get 100% of the choice and 100% of the responsibility for making it all happen.

But we're skirting around one of the issues here; we're avoiding the literary elephant in the room. No, not this one - the other one: literary achievement. The argument runs that becoming a selfie will most likely end in financial disappointment, whereas conventional publishing... Well, that's the thing about publishing - there are no guarantees. Delving into any bargain bucket will show you that.

I think that writers need to have a mature conversation with themselves and with one another. We're not all going to the prom, as I'm fond of saying. In the cold light of day my fantasy, Covenant, will never trouble the bestseller list, regardless of how it's published. That doesn't mean it's without literary merit (however that's defined), or that it won't show a healthy profit over its lifespan. 

Not every book gets on the podium. There are so many factors at work  including context, timing, luck, connections and the actual style of writing. As a writer / author, you can only produce your best work and then put your work out there. (And then promote your book mercilessly!)

I decided to produce four little books because I'd written material that really didn't fit anywhere else. I did approach some humour publishers, but nothing materialised, apart from an honest and interesting conversation about the economics of impulse purchase / gift titles. Mindful of that discussion, I've opted for ebooks. It's an easier, lower cost route to market and, given the proliferation of devices and platforms, coupled with the unit price, it makes more sense.

My forthcoming quartet of ebooks comprises:
Man Up! The wisdom of ignorance. The male mind laid bare.
Wise Up! Modern wisdom for those with a short attention span.
Newsclash. Real news stories + boredom = satire.
The Little Read Book of Project Management. An alternative glossary of terms.

I'll announce the birth of my other little darlings on my personal blog, over at


Chloe said...

Too often in life - not just writing - we miss out on something wonderful because we're too afraid to take a risk in case it means missing out on something ever better. Yeah, you could've continued hanging on for that traditional deal, and MAYBE you would've got it, but maybe Covenant would never have seen the light of day. Something that feels second-best at the time is still better and braver than nothing at all!

DT said...

Hi, Chloe.

I agree with you. It's also true that perspectives can change over time. I had one conventional book deal that, with the wisdom of hindsight, was a better deal than I thought it was at the time.

I think your point about bravery is a really important one. We learn by doing, and that extends to what we do with our writing. As long as we take action, and we learn from it, there are no entirely wrong choices.

it would be interesting to take a straw poll among all the writers we know, to see which stories or books were never written - and why.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a poll like that, Derek. And Chloe, a mentor just told me that really good is good enough because perfection may never happen. That's helping me be brave. :)

Fionnuala said...

Good luck with everything, Derek. We owe it to our little darlings to get them read - whatever the route. I look forward to reading yours.

DT said...

Thanks, Fi. The thing about little darlings is to either get them read or kill them!